Ulric Collette is a Quebec based photographer who stumbled upon something cool while working with Photoshop. He spliced his face with the face of his son along the line of symmetry. The result was astonishing. It’s a dramatic and interesting way to examine family resemblance. Since then he has taken many more pictures which you can see on his website.
You know the conversation family members inevitably have over a new baby: “Oh, he’s got your eyes,” or “Look, he’s just a mini version of you.” Since children are the genetic product of their two parents, it’s natural to see qualities of both parents in the child. While I find it hard to see this sort of resemblance in a newborn, the traits usually become more obvious as the child grows up.
As Christians, we are adopted into a new family. Normally, you wouldn’t expect to see the traits of a parent in an adopted child. With Christians, however, the image runs deeper. It’s the chief mark of this family resemblance that John explores in 1 John 4:7-8
Humans are all created in the image of God. As one of my professors, Victor Shepherd, liked to say, “The image of God in a person can be defaced, but never effaced.” The image of God is the defining mark of what it means to be human. We can cover up that image with the marring effects of sin but we can never forfeit this gift.
When a person becomes a Christian, you could could consider the process a cleaning up—a detailing—of the image of God that lay for so long under the stain of sin. When a person becomes a Christian, they are adopted into the family of the One who created them in the first place. Then the family resemblance begins to shine.
1 John 4:8 begins with a play on words: ‘Agapētoi, agapōman. You don’t have to read Greek to know that those two words sound similar. If you’ve been around church for very long you’ll have recognized the word—agapē, love—within those words. In English, you could say: Beloved, Be-loving!
John is calling the family of God to be who they already are.
. . .
You can say many things about God. I still remember having to memorize an attributes-of-God list during my first year of Bible College. The list started with the “omni-s”: God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. That is, he is all-powerful, all-knowing, and in all places at once. From there we would move on to the rest of the list. God is holy, loving, etc. This is a logical way to learn the attributes of God, but it’s not how the Bible reveals God.
The Bible doesn’t describe God as sheer unbridled power. The God of the Hebrew Bible is more often described as rich in mercy and loving-kindness. The God revealed in Jesus Christ chose not to offer a dramatic display of power and launch himself off the cross to wreak vengeance upon his accusers. He allowed himself to be sacrificed. His power was displayed in weakness.
What would move our Almighty God to lay down his might and choose to incarnate himself in vulnerability? John knows:
God is love. (1 John 4:8)
. . .
If we want to grow in our family resemblance to our Father in Heaven, the path is not to seek power—whether political or personal. The fundamental mark is love. Self-giving love. Agapē.
This defining mark is so fundamental that John could say positively that:
Whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7)
He also states the same thing negatively:
Anyone who does not love does not know God. (1 John 4:8)
As we love God through loving his children we begin to look more and more like our true Father.